The Runaway Bride
The Runaway Bride was the second Christmas special of the BBC Wales era of Doctor Who. It marked the first change of companion since the 2005 revival had begun, and also introduced the modern-era concept of the “one-off”, one-story companion. Though Donna Noble did later return for a full series of her own, the original plan was for her only to appear in this episode, thereby blazing a trail that others like Astrid Peth, Jackson Lake, Christina de Souza and Adelaide Brooke would follow.
The Runaway Bride was also, from a production point of view, the start of the third series of the program though, as with most Christmas specials prior to 2012, the episode was considered a standalone.
The concept and title had been considered by head writer Russell T Davies since the BBC Wales incarnation of the show was green-lit in 2003. It had intended to be a series 2 episode, but, after Russell learnt with little warning from Jane Tranter at the BAFTA screening of The Parting of the Ways that not only was there to be a 2005 Christmas special, but a 2006 one as well, Bride was moved ahead to the Christmas slot and “took on a whole new lease of life” as a story which was after Billie Piper’s departure from her role as Rose Tyler and before the new companion introduced at the start of the full third series came in. Bride‘s spot was replaced by Tooth and Claw, which in turn was bumped up from episode 6 to episode 2.
Donna Noble prepares to walk down the aisle to her waiting groom, Lance Bennett, in her Christmas Eve wedding. Halfway down the aisle she is surrounded by a golden glow. She dissolves into a cloud of energy that goes flying up through the ceiling.
In outer space, the Tenth Doctor is orbiting a supernova and has finished his farewell to Rose Tyler when he looks up to see Donna in the TARDIS. He is flabbergasted as to how she ended up in the TARDIS.
Donna is irate at being stolen from her wedding and blames the Doctor, demanding answers. She yanks open the doors and finds herself staring out into deep space. Shocked back to her senses, she realizes the Doctor is an alien and what she is seeing is real. The Doctor cannot figure out how she gained entrance to the TARDIS, and Donna demands that he return her to the church. She spots Rose’s shirt and accuses him of having abducted other women. The Doctor tells her it belongs to a friend, but “she’s gone”.
The Doctor tries to get to the church in Chiswick, but accidentally lands the TARDIS near Oxford Street. Donna calls him a Martian, then storms out of the TARDIS and tries to phone her family while the Doctor wonders how she could have gotten aboard. Donna tries to get a taxi, but the taxi drivers believe that she is dressed for a fancy dress party, drunk and a drag queen in that order. She realizes she has no money for a taxi, so the Doctor gets some from a nearby ATM.
The Doctor notices familiar masked Santas. They are the robotic scavengers from the previous year’s Christmas, leveling their weapons disguised as band instruments at him. He distracts them by using his sonic screwdriver on the ATM to make it spit out money, causing a crazed rush from the nearby crowd. He goes off in search of Donna and finds her taking off in a cab, its driver yet another of the robotic Santas. Donna quickly realizes her cab is not taking her to the church, and finds the Doctor has engaged the TARDIS in pursuit of the cab on the highway. He manages to rescue her from the taxi, but the endeavor has put a strain on the TARDIS and he cannot use it for some time.
The Doctor gives Donna a bio-damper to stop the Santas tracking her and tries to learn more about her. After finding out she missed the Sycorax’s attempted invasion the previous Christmas (she was asleep with a hangover), he then learns she works at a security firm called H.C. Clements, where she met her husband-to-be, Lance. The Doctor takes Donna to her reception, where Lance is dancing with Nerys. Donna is shocked and furious that her friends and family are having the wedding reception without her, and begins to argue with her mother and family. The shouting continues until Donna bursts into tears — with a big wink to the Doctor. The party continues, and during the dancing the Doctor spots a woman with long blonde hair and is upset as she reminds him of Rose. He then borrows a mobile phone to look up H.C. Clements. He learns the firm is, or rather was, owned by the Torchwood Institute. The wedding photographer’s video footage shows Donna was infused with Huon particles, a source of energy that hasn’t existed for billions of years. The Doctor realizes that Huon particles cannot be masked by a bio-damper. He grabs Donna and they run outside to find the hall surrounded by the Santas. He realizes that the Christmas trees are rigged as well, and the ornaments fly explosively at the crowd. Using the sound system at the reception and his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor shakes apart the roboforms and traces their control to a star-shaped spaceship hanging above the city, then loses its signal.
The Doctor asks Lance to take Donna and him to H.C. Clements, learning that after Torchwood One’s dissolution in the Battle of Canary Wharf, someone else took control of the company; Donna has no recollection of it, claiming she was in Spain, even when the Doctor mentions that there were Cybermen in Spain as well. The Doctor finds a basement level not on the floor plans and the three go there, finding themselves in a long tunnel that leads to the Thames Flood Barrier. The Doctor discovers a laboratory where Huon particles have been manufactured and stored in liquid form. The Doctor determines Donna is saturated with them. The stress of her wedding day made the particles catalyse and activate, pulling her into the TARDIS. There is an immense hole in the floor of the room. The Doctor surmises it was dug by Torchwood’s laser technology and extends to the centre of the Earth.
As they explore, a half-humanoid, half-spider teleports into the lab. The Doctor recognizes it as one of the Racnoss, a race thought wiped out billions of years ago by the Fledgling Empires in the Dark Times. The Racnoss calls itself the Empress. She has fashioned a large web above the pit, where the body of H.C. Clements still hangs. As the Doctor talks to the Empress, Lance sneaks behind it with an axe, threatening to strike, until they both start laughing and he reveals he has been working with the Empress. He had spiked the coffee he gave to Donna every day with Huon particles to mature in her so the Empress can use their energy to regain her ancient power. However, as the Doctor and Donna are targeted by the roboforms under the Empress’ control, the Doctor reverses the particle activity with a vial of liquid Huon particles he’d collected earlier. This causes the TARDIS to materialize around them so they can escape. The Empress is not thwarted. With the knowledge gained by dosing Donna, she knows how to achieve the same result with Lance. She begins to force feed him the Huon liquid while trapping him in her web.
The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the creation of the Earth to learn why the Empress has dug into the core of the planet. He tempts the distraught Donna into looking, and they find a Racnoss spaceship is the actual core of Earth, the rest of the planet forming around it. Were the Empress to use the Huon particles, she would reawaken those on the ancient ship. As the Doctor puts this information together, the Empress uses the Huon particles now in Lance to attract Donna and the TARDIS. They begin to materialize near the Empress, but the Doctor uses percussive maintenance on the Tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator (which appears to have TARDIS coral growing around it) to skip sideways into an empty corridor. As he listens at a door, Donna is captured and suspended in the Empress’ web. The Doctor realizes she is gone, then opens the door to find a black cloaked robot aiming a weapon at him. The Empress activates the Huon particles, which purge from Donna and Lance and fall down the hole. Knowing her fellow Racnoss will be hungry, she severs Lance from the web, dropping him into the pit.
Meanwhile, the Empress’ ship descends over the city, taken for a Christmas star until it fires on the city. She catches the Doctor as he sneaks back into the laboratory, in disguise as a roboform. He cuts down Donna so that she can swing to safety, then offers the Racnoss one last chance: he will take her kind to a planet where they will threaten no one. She calls him funny, declining his offer, then tells the firing squad to aim, but they shut down as the Doctor calmly says, “Relax”. He pulls a remote resembling a very flashy RC car controller from his pockets (which he says are bigger on the inside). The Empress proudly declares that the roboforms will not be necessary; her children will dine on Martian flesh tonight. The Doctor reveals that he is not from Mars, but Gallifrey.
The Empress is enraged as she exclaims, “They (the Time Lords) murdered the Racnoss!” The Doctor simply responds, “I warned you… you did this,” and holds out a few of the explosive Christmas ornaments ominously. The Empress realizes she has gone too far and pleads for mercy, but it is too late — the Doctor throws them into the air and uses the remote to control the ornaments like remote-controlled bombs to blow holes in the tunnel. Water from the Thames rushes in, swirling around the Empress and then reaching and traveling down the tunnel to the Earth’s core, drowning the Racnoss within.
The Doctor stoically — coldly, even — watches as the water pours in, flames rush up and the Empress screams in anguish for her children. Donna’s look grows horrified, and it takes her yelling out to the Doctor when they are both soaked, “Doctor! You can stop now!” to snap him out of it, at which point a look of terror comes across his face as well as if he realizes what he has done. They escape into the TARDIS while the Empress teleports back to her ship, moments before it is blown out of the sky by tanks under orders of “Mr Saxon”.
The Doctor returns Donna home, but she is desolate, having lost her job and her fiancé the same evening. The Doctor uses a burst of energy from the TARDIS to make it snow, hoping to cheer her up. He invites her to join him in the TARDIS. She declines, but encourages him to find someone, recognizing he has just lost someone himself and that sometimes he needs someone to stop him from doing something terrible. The Doctor tells her briefly about Rose, and then disappears into his TARDIS.